By Eric Schwartzbnerg, Dayton Daily News, Ohio
The number of Ohioans working for minimum wage declined for the first time in three years, a sign that more people are working at better-paying jobs, federal statistics show.
It's also a sign revenues are increasing at companies and allowing them to pay higher wages, a local economist said.
Ohio's 3.2 million workers who are paid minimum wage ($7.25) or less decreased from 5.7 percent in 2010 to 4.7 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There's no question why wages are growing, according to Dennis Sullivan, professor of economics emeritus at Miami University.
"It's clearly benefiting from the overall resurgence in manufacturing," he said. "It's the reason why Ohio suffered relatively heavily from the recession and why it's coming back now. "(Manufacturing) has always been a relatively unstable industry, one that tends to decline more than the overall economy in a recession and tends to recover more rapidly than the rest of the economy in a recovery."
The statistics reflect the first overall drop since 2007, when the percentage of such workers numbered dropped to 2.3 percent of Ohio's workforce compared with 2.7 the prior year.
Nationwide, 73.9 million American workers age 16 and over were paid at hourly rates, representing 59.1 percent of all wage and salary workers. Among those paid by the hour, 1.7 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 2.2 million had wages below the minimum.
By major occupational group, the highest proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage was in service occupations, at 13 percent.
About six of every 10 workers earning the minimum wage or less in 2011 were employed in service occupations, mostly in food preparation and serving related jobs, according to BLS.
The downward trend in those making minimum wage or less occurred because of "a suction of people who were forced into minimum wage jobs finding their way back out of minimum wage jobs," Sullivan said.
The result is a surplus of minimum wage jobs, he said, something not easily filled.
"We have a lot of unemployed people but those people are not real eager to take minimum wage jobs but some of them are forced to," he said. "This has been a long and nasty recession."
Tim Theiss, lead manager of Jolly's Drive-In restaurant on Hamilton's west side, said customers' lack of tipping means his employees are not even earning minimum-wage levels.
"Basically, they're working for $3.85 an hour," he said.
Kaitlin Schultheiss of Hamilton, a 19-year-old Miami University sophomore, has worked at Jolly's as a car-hop since 2009.
She said news of the decrease bodes well for those looking to make more.
"That just means that there's bigger job options out there ... so it's good that that's happening," Schultheiss said.
(c)2012 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)